Why Bridgestone Has Some Explaining and Homework to Do

You don’t need to be a tire specialist to figure out that something is amiss in Bridgestone’s camp. The Japanese manufacturer had three moments in the last 6 months which raised suspicion as to how competitive the MotoGP tires actually are.
Phillip Island in 2013, the decision to bring the 2013-spec tires at the Circuit of the Americas for the US Grand Prix and the poor performance some riders complained about in the second round of the championship should be more than enough for the MSMA and Dorna to start asking some questions.

Of course, not all the riders experienced the same drawbacks using either the new 2014 tires, which are supposed to have received a heat-resistant layer. The 2013-spec ones Bridgestone brought to the US Grand Prix, but when say, a quarter or so from the grid has objections of any kind, maybe things are not a smooth as some want to make us believe they are.

Marc Marquez was riding on one of his fav tracks, he knew it was extremely demanding for tires, and decided to go for the hard option (red band on the sidewall). His team mate Dani Pedrosa chose the medium one and somehow made it last through the entire race, possibly by trying to open up a sizable gap in the early laps, so that he could then ease up the ordeals in the second part of the race.

The recipe seemed to work for Honda, but it did not for Yamaha and Ducati. Speaking of the latter team, while Andrea Dovizioso run with the medium option and managed to get on the podium, his team mate Cal Crutchlow didn’t even make it past the finish line, apparently because of tire problems, as well.

The Englishman first noticed a vibration in the rear wheel, decided to swap bikes and rode back on the track with the softer option. However, he came off his bike only two laps later, high-sided and miraculously escaped without serious injuries, being left with a dislocated right little finger. Though Ducati has not made any official declarations on this specific matter, we might expect them after Cructhlow’s new medical investigations in San Diego are over.

The other big name who was a Bridgestone “victim” is no other than possibly the most experienced rider in MotoGP, 9-time World Champion Valentino Rossi. Rossi has had a rather weak start, but his experience helped him climb back towards to leading pack in the beginning of the race. It all seemed almost like a déjà vu when he caught up with Andrea Iannone and we all could almost bet that the Doctor will end up on the podium.

Both Honda machines were way too much in the front for any realistic chances of seeing Rossi catching up with them when… the Doctor started to “slip” back into the pack. His descent stopped in the 8th position which he managed to maintain through the end of the race, but he was quite angry when he reached the Movistar Yamaha paddock.

His front tire was completely destroyed on the right side, the same side about which Bridgestone said will reinforce and make it last longer. Not exactly Rossi’s idea of lasting longer, definitely.

Ahead of the Circuit of the Americas, Bridgestone said that the 2013-spec tires they will bring at Austin will have an asymmetric profile, with the compound on the right shoulder being especially formulated to withstand the extra abuse of the 4 high-speed right-hand corners.

It was not the first COTA experience for Bridgestone, so we could expect that tires would not be a problem. Even in the free practice, Rossi put in 11 laps with an used one and it felt quite ok according to himself, therefore he says he had no reasons to suspect anything. Still, it looks like the tire did not fare too well under race conditions.

On the other hand, Rossi admits that the 2014 setup of the Yamaha M1 tends to cause heat build-up in fast turns when the bike is leaning and the throttle is open. If I got more hands, I’d also look back in Qatar, a Lorenzo’s Turn 1 crash which put him out of the race. He admitted making a mistake, but apparently it was related to the new tires, rather than a common riding error.

The Mallorcan approached Turn 1 at Losail fully confident that his grip was alright, but went down inadvertently upon braking. Even more, Bridgestone hasn’t offered yet a comprehensive reason for bringing the older-spec tires at Austin, and the “production issues” are hardly enough explanation.

Rossi, together with some other riders and teams openly said that after testing and trying to find the optimal setup for the bikes running the 2014 tires, having to race with the old ones was weird, to say the least. And in case you think I am a Rossi fan, well - I’m not, but the man’s got a point.

What’s even more interesting is seeing how the Bridgestone tires will behave on the all-new surface of the Argentinian Autodromo Termas de Rio Hondo in two weeks’ time. Even Bridgestone’s Masao Azuma admitted that the “Technical Centre in Japan expects this track to be one of the harshest events on the calendar for tires, as there is the potential for very high tire temperatures to occur.”

We’ve seen how destructive newly-surfaced tracks can be on tires, with the last year’s round at Phillip Island in Australia with a reduce number of laps and split into two 10-lap stints. Failing to comply with the mandatory bike swap after no more than 10 laps was sanctioned very severely, and Honda and Marc Marquez have just found out how disqualifying tasted.

I am willing to believe that Bridgestone sorted out their “production issues” and have done their homework properly ahead of the Argentinian MotoGP round, as tires failing are about so much more than winning or losing points - they’re about rider safety, too.
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